Apart from a good article on CNN.com, there has not been much discussion of the ramification for the home automation market of the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google. Google had earlier announced its “Android@Home” initiative on May 9, 2011. Likewise, Motorola Mobility had acquired home automation platform specialist 4Home in December 2010. ABI Research believes the acquisition provides a unique opportunity for Google to differentiate itself in the home automation market.
Google finds itself now with two distinct, yet over-lapping home automation platforms. Given that Verizon, and 25 other service providers around the world, have either announced managed home automation solutions based on the 4Home platform, or are in the process of developing offerings based on it, it would be truly unfortunate for Google to shut down the 4Home effort. There’s perhaps more reason to shut down the more recent, and unproven, Android@Home effort. Especially given Google’s previous struggles in the home systems market (remember PowerMeter?) and Google’s apparent strategy of wanting to create a whole new short range wireless standard to go along with the middleware. (Given the existence of ZigBee, Z-Wave, HomePlug, low power Wi-Fi, and others, the intention to launch yet another home automation physical layer standard is almost nonsensical, and points to a fundamental lack of understanding of the home automation market.)
Rather than getting rid of one or the other, Google should differentiate itself by offering a tiered approach to home automation solutions. In short, provide Android@Home as a free platform for developers to use to create basic home monitoring and control systems (apps) using the smart phone as the control hub and host device. This would be particularly targeted toward younger customers, perhaps living in apartments, who could be introduced to home automation functionality in a very simple, cut-priced manner. This approach could even accommodate couples; home automation system vendor Lagotek has demonstrated the feasibility of having control software reside in more than one control point in the home, and there is little reason why both members of a couple couldn’t share control of their home’s automation functionality between their separate smartphones.
Building on this entry-level tier, Google should continue to support the 4Home platform as a key enabler of service provider managed home automation offerings. Customers introduced to home automation as younger singletons are likely to be even more apt to adopt home automation as they mature and their families grow, than if the service provider has to “educate” them from scratch about the need for, and benefits from, home automation. We could even see service providers explicitly offer these tiers to their customers: start with a smartphone app, graduate to a whole home automation system.
Google has a unique opportunity to truly differentiate itself in the home automation market, both by a tiered approach and by leveraging the Android ecosystem to provide mass market education about home automation and funnel potential customers to 4Home-based systems. Will Google be able to take focus on this and take advantage of this opportunity while it manages its competitive strategy in the handset and tablet industries? We’ll see…
For more information on the home automation industry, please see ABI Research’s Home Automation Systems research service.